Reviewed by GREG KING
Director: Ivan Reitman
Stars: Natalie Portman, Ashton Kutcher, Greta Gerwig, Lake Bell, Kevin Kline, Cary Elwes.
Rob Reiner’s classic romantic comedy When Harry Met Sally explored the question of whether two people could remain best friends without sex getting in the way of their relationship. It still remains one of the best examples of this crowded but increasingly bland genre. No Strings Attached turns that film’s central premise on its ear, as it explores a relationship that is based purely on sex, without emotional attachments getting in the way. It is also an exploration of contemporary sexual mores and relationships.
Emma (Natalie Portman) is a workaholic and self-pitying medical student who is too busy for a normal fulfilling relationship. Adam (Ashton Kutcher) is an assistant producer on a tv show that seems like a cross between High School Musical and Glee. The pair have crossed paths on several previous occasions – at summer camp, and later in college, and again in LA when they were both involved with other partners – but have never really connected. When his latest girlfriend Vanessa dumps him, Adam drunkenly contacts Emma. After spending the night at her apartment, Emma convinces Adam that they should have a relationship based purely on sex. No emotional ties, no jealousies, no romantic dinners – just sex. And this works for a while, until Adam finds himself attracted to Emma.
The script is credited to first time writer Elizabeth Merriman, a playwright, but it is so formulaic and cliched that a computer could have churned it out.
However, the film benefits from its two attractive leads, although there seems to be precious little chemistry between the pair.
This is Portman’s follow up to Black Swan, and she was obviously looking to follow the darker psychological terrain of that twisted drama with something a bit more lightweight. It is also her first foray into romantic comedy, and she seems to be enjoying this change of pace. Kutcher however, has all the emotional range of a lump of wood. But he is charming enough, and has an affable presence, and he is effective at what he does within his limitations.
However, it is the peripheral characters that add some much-needed spark to the formulaic proceedings. Greta Gerwig (from Greenberg) plays Emma’s roommate Patrice, while Lake Bell lends some comic spark as Adam’s highly-strung colleague. Kevin Kline effortlessly steals his few scenes in an undemanding role as Adam’s father, a former tv sitcom star undergoing a midlife crisis. He has a penchant for bedding younger women, but his latest conquest turns out to be Adam’s former girl friend Vanessa. Cary Elwes is wasted in a thankless role as a doctor.
The central plot device of two people getting together for a relationship based purely on sex without emotional attachments is, on the surface, similar to the recent Love And Other Drugs. And it is a plot device that will appear again in the forthcoming romcom Friends With Benefits, starring Justin Timberlake and Portman’s Black Swan co-star Mila Kunis. In fact, Friends With Benefits was the alternative title for this film, after both the studio and the MPAA rejected its original title F**k Buddies.
And since Judd Apatow’s Knocked Up, it seems that most contemporary romantic comedies need to resort to potty-mouthed dialogue in order to find a broader youthful audience. Here though most of the raunchy dialogue comes from the female characters, which is something of a healthy change.
No Strings Attached is a fairly conventional and formulaic romcom, and marks something of a return to form by Canadian director Ivan Reitman, a veteran film maker who seems to have lost his touch lately with subpar efforts like My Super Ex-Girlfriend. Long gone are the days when Reitman dominated the box office with wonderfully witty comedies like Ghostbusters, etc. His direction here is workmanlike but efficient, but seems to lacks that sharp edge he brought to his best films. No Strings Attached will appeal to audiences who like their romantic comedies with a bit of bite.